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By The Capistrano Dispatch

In the Sept. 12-24 edition of The Dispatch, the eight candidates for San Juan Capistrano City Council shared which development projects concern them the most and how they would balance responsible development and the need to preserve the city’s historical character.

For our second question, we asked the candidates:

The state is in the midst of an historic drought and water remains a hot topic in San Juan Capistrano. The city adopted a new rate structure this year, replacing its contested system. Do you think the new rates effectively address some of the concerns of the previous system? Do you think the city’s Groundwater Recovery Plant is a viable solution to future water woes? What else can the city do to address the water crisis?

Below are their responses, printed verbatim, in the order their names will appear on the ballot.

Jan Siegel

Jan Siegel, Community Volunteer

Floods and drought periods have been part of the California landscape for centuries. In the 1850’s the fact was “that whiskey was for drinking and water was for fighting.” Not much has changed.

The new rate structure is fair to the majority of the residents. It is a complicated issue because the City is not in control of the commodity it sells. We are part of a five way split for the same water under the control of the Metropolitan Water District. Besides the MWD there are 27 agencies that have a say in the distribution of water before we turn on our taps. Rates not only pay for the water but for the infrastructure that supports it. Our pipes are aging and we need to make sure that we have the money in place to monitor and maintain them.

The Ground Water Recovery Plant is a viable solution because it gives us options. MWD actually pays us for not buying more from them. Desalinization is another option being explored by the City which may in the future be another choice. It is always better to have choices and options rather than relying on one entity to supply our needs.

Derek Reeve

Derek Reeve, Councilman/Constitutional Attorney

I voted against every rate increase while the council majority again approved illegal tiered water rates amounting to more than 30%. The current water system is too expensive for a city our size.

The GWRP is so expensive that the rate increase will not cover operating expenses. The rates are dependent on an inflated level of production that will never be realized. When less production is acknowledged, there will be higher costs and deficits.

The majority argue that the GWRP production is cheaper than imported water. They purposely fail to include the true cost of labor, debt, supplies, electricity, overhead, grant writing, etc., into the city water operations. Instead of acknowledging basic economic principles, the majority continues to recklessly create deficits through illegal tiered rates.

I sounded the alarm years ago that water is being pumped out of the basin by the city faster than it’s replaced. Recently the golf course which sued the city and the Basin Authority showed this to be true. Due to the majority’s mismanagement, the water aquifer will disappear and be replaced by sea water creating an economic and ecological disaster. Once gone, it’s gone forever.

The city must remove itself from the water business.

Pam Patterson

Pam Patterson, Constitutional Attorney/Businesswoman

San Juan needs to get out of the water business, but most importantly, we need to vote a new majority into office that makes wise decisions, and represents the interests of its citizens.

The vacuum of leadership amongst the majority on the City Council has contributed greatly to San Juan’s significant water issues. Drought recurs regularly for Southern California—a foreseeable phenomenon.

Instead of a vision, and long term planning, we have:

  • over-pumped wells,
  • a threatened aquifer,
  • evidence of salt water in our water supply,
  • the highest water rates in Southern California,
  • an enormous debt of at least $43 million,
  • and expensive litigation costs (another suit was filed August 28, 2014).

The new water rates do not address the legal questions raised by local taxpayers and they do not promote conservation. They represent a political decision by the city council majority aimed at preserving the status quo until after the election. Their cynical aim is to buy your vote.

The new rates are not reasonably based on the cost of delivering water service. Thus they would appear to violate provisions of the California Constitution (Article XIII-D) and related laws.

John Taylor

John Taylor, Businessman/Councilmember

Our adoption of new water rates began with an in-depth study of all of the costs to bring safe clean drinking water to our residents, including any capital improvements that are essential to keep the system from falling into expensive emergency repairs. We also gathered input from citizens at four community forums and at several City Council meetings. In the end, we chose a rate system that was fair to all of our residents, one that had the least amount of cost and also did not raise sewer rates for the next four years.

Groundwater is an important source of water for our city. The Groundwater Recovery Plant takes this water and makes it pure and safe for us to drink. In the future, we should look to recharging the aquifer with water from storm run-off as well as injection of recycled water into the ground upstream. This will help preserve our groundwater for many years. With water shortages a fact of life in Southern California, the city needs to seriously look at ocean water desalinization as a long-range solution. In addition, we should encourage conservation by utilizing drought tolerant native plants in our yards and public landscaping.

Rob Williams

Robert Williams, Architect/Business Owner

Water is a critical issue demanding us to pull together to seek thoughtful solutions which requires proven, unbiased and collaborative leadership.

The previous water billing system was grossly unfair as average residential users were quickly accelerated into a top tier rate. Our new tier system is a step in the right direction but unfortunately coincided with huge increases in water costs to the city. Our solution must be strategic and won’t be solved by simply arguing over tier systems.

Our Ground Water Recovery Plant is visionary. Sometime ago, citizens had the foresight that water costs from outside sources would only increase over the years. Pumping our own water will save us millions in the long run and also embodies the independent spirit of San Juan Capistrano. Having our own water source protects us from main water pipe disasters. Many OC cities without their own ground water plant are now facing expensive consequences which will result in future water hikes to their residents. I believe the city must work to increase the capacity and efficiency of our pumping station while seeking collaborative partners to keep costs to our citizens down.

The key is working together to maximize our return on investment.

Stephanie Frisch

Stephanie Frisch, Independent Insurance Broker

The situation with our water supply in California is dire. We are in a severe drought.

It makes sense to take advantage of capturing groundwater before we lose it forever into the ocean which is what the Ground Water Recovery Plant does. Everything seems to increase in price over the years; a resource as valuable as water increases in price too.

Other than our Groundwater Recovery plant, we get our water from the Colorado River and the Bay Area Delta. We are not “first in line” to receive water from these sources, and as water sources deplete, our price to purchase that water grows and our access to it lessens.

The Groundwater Recovery plant isn’t without issues, but I agree with the majority that I have interviewed that it is something we can’t walk away from—a safe reliable source of water.

We may need to look at reducing the amount of water that we get from the GWRP to help maintain the water levels in the aquifer below us.  We also need to be looking at alternative sources of water, like desalination and more emphasis should be put on water conservation.

-Stephanie Frisch

Kerry Ferguson

Kerry Ferguson, Businesswoman/Educator

The city council majority has handled water issues recklessly. It’s time for new leadership.

The majority’s 2010 water rate structure was judged illegal. The new water rate structure isn’t much better. In a cynical decision by the council majority to buy votes, conservation is not encouraged. Most water users’ allocations increase 50% before higher rates apply. Not based on costs of delivery, they still appear to violate provisions of the California Constitution (Article XIII-D) and related laws. Rates are still the highest in the area due to extremely high costs of building and operating the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP).

Despite drought, the council majority continued pumping more and more. Recently, San Juan Capistrano was ordered to shut down two wells, hoping to restore water levels. Over-pumping has left vegetation dying in the creek bed and sea water intruding, risking aquifer collapse all together. The golf course has sued.

We must reduce water consumption and the cost of running our GWRP. The council majority refuses to face this, willing to put our aquifer and fiscal security at risk to stay in office. Ultimately, we must develop other sources—desalinization, reclaimed water, MWD water. We can do better! I ask for your vote.

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer, Retired Submarine Captain

I was very involved in the development of the current rate structure. It was created based upon reasonable assumptions on the cost of water and anticipated changes. Our city held public hearings and workshops to obtain input from residents. In the end, it is a fair sharing of the costs of providing reliable and safe water to our residents. Use more, pay more.

The Ground Water Recovery Plant is one method of diversifying our source of water and is providing a significant portion of our water—water we do not have to buy from Metropolitan Water District. We are looking at increased use of recycled water and water desalinization as other methods to diversify and increase reliability.

Public education is important. We live in a desert climate and it is necessary to use water efficiently. We will continue to determine if more outdoor watering can be converted to recycled water and to find additional sources of recycled water. We are working collaboratively in the region with other organizations, including San Juan Basin Authority and South Orange County Watershed Management Area to more efficiently manage limited water resources. We will continue to explore every option to conserve and use water wisely.

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comments (3)

  • Over the past six to seven-months I have written the City Council seeking the passage of a resolution to permanently ban “unconventional well stimulation technologies known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), hi-rate gravel packing, and acidizing used to produce oil and gas from shale formations.”

    My motivation is the threat that these unconventional oil and gas recovery processes pose to our largely imported water supply. While the gas and oil cartels would have us believe that these “processes are well understood and safe,” environmental scientists recognize the potential for “ground water contamination, depletion of fresh water, degradation of air quality, triggering of earthquakes, noise and surface, pollution, and the consequential risks to health and the environment.” (Brown, V. J., U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 2007 Feb, 115 (2): A76).

    The “safety and quality of a well are dependent on the operator, the particularities of each site, local regulations and politics, and many other details that can get lost amid the chaos of a drill pad.” (A. Prud’Homme, Oxford University Press, 2014). The releases of methane (CH4) and casing leaks, use of unlined storage ponds and illegal roadside dumping are well documented. It was revealed this past Tuesday that “the California State Water Resources Board has sent a letter to the EPA confirming that at least nine of those sites were in fact dumping wastewater contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants into aquifers protected by state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.” (DESMOG, 7 Oct 2014).

    While it is true that there are no wells being fracked in San Juan Capistrano or our immediate neighboring cities, we have to be aware that the bulk of our water is imported via the Metropolitan Water District Orange County (MWDOC). MWDOC manages and coordinates the delivery of imported water supplies from the Colorado River and Northern California through the State Water Project within six Southern California counties – Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego.

    The drought is having a significant impact on our water supplies obtained from the Colorado River and Northern California, and fracking is syphoning off millions, if not billions, of gallons of this water, forcing farmers to leave much of their land fallow because of lack of water. The Sacramento Bee reports that the Central Valley agricultural community has lost $2.2 billion so far this year.

    On May 24, I responded to an Opinion piece in The Capistrano Dispatch, written by Councilman Derek Reeve. Mr. Reeve responded with a lengthy diatribe filled with sarcasm and innuendo that one would not normally anticipate from an elected official and numerous “cherry picked” facts.

    You can read the entire exchange on the Capistrano Dispatch and decide for yourselves at:

    On the issue of fracking, he justified his position with: “. . . Saudi Arabia reduced production by 250,000 barrels per day, all because of fracking,” without offering any evidence to support his position. He completely overlooked, or ignored, the fact that of the 11 major Saudi oil fields, eight – Ghawar, Safaniya, Abqaiq, Berri, Abu-Safah, Qatif, Zuluf, Marjan – are depleted. “The remaining oil fields – Shaybah, Khurais, and Manifa – are producing about 10 million barrels per day.” (Patterson, R. “A Closer Look at Saudi Arabia,” 27 May 2014).

    On June 3rd, Mayor Sam Allevato responded: “I have consistently maintained that city councilmen do not have nor should they meddle in issues best left up to the Federal or State governments, i.e., illegal immigration. I view “Fracking” in the same context as this is really a state/Federal issue best taken up with our legislators in Sacramento. I don’t have the time or the energy to deal with issues of this scale that are not strictly within the purview of City Council. I do appreciate your bringing this to our attention and raising our awareness of this potentially harmful practice, however if I do fracking then I would have to deal with illegal immigration, which neither being our primary mission or area of authority.”

    Mayor Allevato believes this is a State/Federal issue, but with millions of dollars of oil money pouring into the statehouse to buy off the legislature and Governor, there is little hope of any effective legislation being enacted to control fracking within the state. SB4, which was signed into law by Governor Brown on September 20th, provides reassurance to the fossil fuel industry that fracking and related practices can continue in California while the state crafts its regulations. While a previous version of SB 4 included a moratorium on new fracking until the completion of the scientific assessment, the final version states that DOGGR “shall allow” fracking and other well enhancement techniques before that scientific report comes out . . . “ (KCET, 2014). In other words, “Drill Baby, Drill.”

    “Governor Brown reportedly accepted oil and gas industry contributions totaling more than $2 million, and The Western States Petroleum Association – an association of oil companies including BP, Chevron, Occidental, and Tesoro among others — spent $1,456,785 alone in the first three months of 2014. These contributions are just a small chunk of the nearly $15 million the oil lobby spent in California in the 2013-2014 legislative session.” (Coalition to Protect San Benito, 2014).

    I do not have $15 million to buy myself a seat at the table; consequently, the local approach is the one most-likely to succeed. More than 200 localities in New York state banned together to ban fracking within their city limits, forcing their governor to continue a statewide moratorium. Our City Council can, and should, do the same.

    The Council has the authority under our State’s Constitution to enact a ban, and I ask here, once again, for the Council to enact the following resolution:

    “The people of the City of San Juan Capistrano have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. San Juan Capistrano’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the City of San Juan Capistrano conserves and maintains them for the benefit of all the people.

    “Therefore, it is resolved that the unconventional well stimulation technologies known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), hi-rate gravel packing, and acidizing used to produce oil and gas from shale formations are permanently banned within the city limits of San Juan Capistrano, California and its adjacent ocean waters within the City’s jurisdiction.”

    In regards to the new crop of Council hopefuls, forum responses have ranged from “whiskey was for drinking and water was for fighting,” to “San Juan needs to get out of the water business.” There have been some responses that indicated the candidates seeking re-election have a good grasp of the threats we face – population growth, extended “exceptional” drought, and potential loss of our water; however, no one has raised the threat of fracking as an issue that deserves attention during their campaigns.

  • Every time you attack Councilman Reeve it only makes me want to vote for him more. You are really out there.

  • Patrick, did you bother to read my original comment. I began it with a simple “Mr. Reeves, you are overlooking what is happening around us .” Reeve responded with sarcasm, innuendo, and a few cherry picked mostly out of context facts.

    Sadly, like Reeve, you appear to ignore the real threats — extended “severe” to “exceptional” drought throughout the state, increasing population putting additional stress on our largely imported water supply, and fracking — our community faces in your response to me: .

    This past week the newsmedia has been reporting on the oil and gas cartel’s poisoning the aquifer’s in the central valley. Here is one, of many, reports:

    “I have a great idea. Let’s take one of the globe’s most important agricultural regions, one with severe water constraints and a fast-dropping water table. And let’s set up shop there with a highly water-intensive form of fossil fuel extraction, one that throws off copious amounts of toxic wastewater. Nothing could possibly go wrong … right? Well . . .

    “Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity. The wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.

    “The documents also reveal that Central Valley Water Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium and nitrates—contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater—in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.” (Philpott, T., Mother Jones, 10 Oct 2014).

    Are you saying that you don’t care about the threat that fracking poses, or are you, like Reeve, in a state of denial?

    The oil and gas cartels only care about one thing . . . PROFIT. Once they have sucked all the oil and gas out of the ground, they will leave, leaving us to clean up the environmental catastrophe they created and left behind. We will pay for this through monumental increases in prices at the grocery store and on our monthly water bills, providing there is any water to distribute to us.

    For the moment, Patrick, lets talk about the ban I’ve proposed. What do you think is wrong with it?

    “The people of the City of San Juan Capistrano have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. San Juan Capistrano’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the City of San Juan Capistrano conserves and maintains them for the benefit of all the people.

    “Therefore, it is resolved that the unconventional well stimulation technologies known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), hi-rate gravel packing, and acidizing used to produce oil and gas from shale formations are permanently banned within the city limits of San Juan Capistrano, California and its adjacent ocean waters within the City’s jurisdiction.”

    Do we not have a right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment” that provide for life on this planet? Are they not a common property for all to enjoy?

    Who shall we blame when our air is to polluted to breath, when our water is so contaminated that it only brings sickness and untimely death? What is your answer to the problem?

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